|Quick Facts: Geoscientists|
|2017 Median Pay||$89,850 per year
$43.20 per hour
|Typical Entry-Level Education||Bachelor's degree|
|Work Experience in a Related Occupation||None|
|Number of Jobs, 2016||32,000|
|Job Outlook, 2016-26||14% (Faster than average)|
|Employment Change, 2016-26||4,500|
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Geoscientists Career, Salary, and Education Information
What Geoscientists Do
Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.
Duties of Geoscientists
Geoscientists typically do the following:
Plan and carry out field studies, in which they visit locations to collect samples and conduct surveys
Analyze aerial photographs, well logs (detailed records of geologic formations found during drilling), rock samples, and other data sources to locate deposits of natural resources and estimate their size
Conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
Make geologic maps and charts
Prepare written scientific reports
Present their findings to clients, colleagues, and other interested parties
Geoscientists use a wide variety of tools, both simple and complex. During a typical day in the field, they may use a hammer and chisel to collect rock samples and then use ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for oil or minerals. In laboratories, they may use x rays and electron microscopes to determine the chemical and physical composition of rock samples. They may also use remote sensing equipment to collect data, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze the data collected.
Geoscientists often supervise the work of technicians and coordinate work with other scientists, both in the field and in the lab.
Many geoscientists are involved in the search for and development of natural resources, such as petroleum. Others work in environmental protection and preservation, and are involved in projects to clean up and reclaim land. Some specialize in a particular aspect of the Earth, such as its oceans.
The following are examples of types of geoscientists:
Geologists study the materials, processes, and history of the Earth. They investigate how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since their formation. There are subgroups of geologists as well, such as stratigraphers, who study stratified rock, and mineralogists, who study the structure and composition of minerals.
Geochemists use physical and organic chemistry to study the composition of elements found in ground water, such as water from wells or aquifers, and of earth materials, such as rocks and sediment.
Geophysicists use the principles of physics to learn about the Earth’s surface and interior. They also study the properties of Earth’s magnetic, electric, and gravitational fields.
Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans; and how these properties affect coastal areas, climate, and weather.
Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations in order to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth.
Petroleum geologists explore the Earth for oil and gas deposits. They analyze geological information to identify sites that should be explored. They collect rock and sediment samples from sites through drilling and other methods and test the samples for the presence of oil and gas. They also estimate the size of oil and gas deposits and work to develop sites to extract oil and gas.
Seismologists study earthquakes and related phenomena, such as tsunamis. They use seismographs and other instruments to collect data on these events.
Work Environment for Geoscientists
Geoscientists held about 32,000 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of geoscientists were as follows:
Architectural, engineering, and related services: 26%
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction: 24%
Federal government, excluding postal service: 7%
State government, excluding education and hospitals: 7%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: 6%
About 3 out of 10 geoscientists were employed in Texas in 2016, because of the prominence of oil and gas activities in that state. Workers in natural resource extraction fields usually work as part of a team, with other scientists and engineers. For example, they may work closely with petroleum engineers to find and develop new sources of oil and natural gas.
Most geoscientists split their time between working in the field, in laboratories, and in offices. Fieldwork can take geoscientists to remote locations all over the world. For example, oceanographers may spend months at sea on a research ship, and petroleum geologists may spend long periods in remote areas while doing exploration activities. Extensive travel and long periods away from home can be physically and psychologically demanding. Having outdoor skills, such as camping and hiking skills, may be useful.
Most geoscientists work full time. They may work additional or irregular hours when doing fieldwork. Geoscientists travel frequently to meet with clients and to conduct fieldwork.
How to Become a Geoscientist
Geoscientists need at least a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions. However, some workers begin their careers as geoscientists with a master’s degree.
Geoscientists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions. A geosciences degree is generally preferred by employers, although some geoscientists begin their careers with degrees in environmental science or engineering. Some geoscientist jobs require a master’s degree.
Most geoscience programs include geology courses in mineralogy, petrology, and structural geology, which are important for all geoscientists. In addition to classes in geology, most programs require students to take courses in other physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science.
Some programs include training on specific software packages that will be useful to those seeking a career as a geoscientist. In addition to classroom and lab courses, most degree programs also include summer geology field camp courses that provide students with practical experience before graduating.
Communication skills. Geoscientists write reports and research papers. They must be able to present their findings clearly to other scientists and team members as well as clients or professionals who do not have a background in geoscience.
Critical-thinking skills. Geoscientists base their findings on sound observation and careful evaluation of data.
Outdoor skills. Geoscientists may spend significant time outdoors. Familiarity with camping and hiking and a general sense of comfort being outside for long periods is useful when performing fieldwork.
Physical stamina. Geoscientists may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment when they conduct fieldwork.
Problem-solving skills. Geoscientists work on complex projects filled with challenges. Evaluating statistical data and other forms of information in order to make judgments and inform the actions of other workers requires a special ability to perceive and address problems.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Geologists are licensed in 31 states. Although a license is not required to work as a geologist in many cases, geologists that offer services to the public in these states must be licensed. Public services include activities such as those associated with civil engineering projects, environmental protection, and regulatory compliance. Applicants must meet minimum education and experience requirements and earn a passing score on an exam. All states that license geologists use the National Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG), Fundamentals of Geology Exam (FGE).
Salaries for Geoscientists
The median annual wage for geoscientists was $89,850 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $48,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $184,130.
In May 2017, the median annual wages for geoscientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction: $125,360
Federal government, excluding postal service: $98,220
Architectural, engineering, and related services: $80,510
State government, excluding education and hospitals: $72,280
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: $66,270
Most geoscientists work full time and may work additional or irregular hours when doing fieldwork. Geoscientists travel frequently to meet with clients and to conduct fieldwork.
Job Outlook for geoscientists
Employment of geoscientists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and resource management is projected to spur demand for geoscientists.
Many geoscientists work in oil and gas extraction and related engineering services and consulting firms. Demand for their services in these industries will be dependent on the demand for the exploration and development of oil and gas wells. New technologies, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, allow for the extraction of previously inaccessible oil and gas resources, and geoscientists will be needed to study the effects such technologies have on the surrounding areas.
Geoscientists will be involved in discovering and developing sites for alternative energies, such as geothermal energy and wind energy. For example, geothermal energy plants must be located near sufficient hot ground water, and one task for geoscientists would be evaluating if the site is suitable.
Employment projections data for Geoscientists, 2016-26
Employment, 2016: 23,800
Projected Employment, 2026: 24,500
Change, 2016-2026: +3%, +700
Careers Related to geoscientists
Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.
Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate, and examine how those conditions affect human activity and the earth in general.
Civil engineers conceive, design, build, supervise, operate, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.
Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.
Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.
Geological and petroleum technicians provide support to scientists and engineers in exploring and extracting natural resources, such as minerals, oil, and natural gas.
Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.
Mining and geological engineers design mines to safely and efficiently remove minerals such as coal and metals for use in manufacturing and utilities.
Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists. They direct activities related to research and development, and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production.
Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.
Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Geoscientists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geoscientists.htm